July 18, 2016

How to Make a Simple Yet Awesome Recipe Booklet

The end of a life season has a certain power to make my tear ducts drizzle with emotion, even though I claim to not be much of a crier. That's when I whip out words on paper to commemorate the significance of it to those I shared it with. Usually it's in a card, but this time it was in a little recipe book project.

You see, there once was a group of budding editors, fresh out of school, who tried to "make it" in the dreamy world of lifestyle magazines. Our common bond? Potlucks. These were not affairs of rotisserie chickens, store-bought cookies, and a six pack, mind you. They were themed with each participant contributing a coordinating dish to make for a feast that impressed us in all our food editor-ness every time. And it was always homemade.

Although our careers took different paths and sent us to new parts of town, the potlucks didn't stop. There were tamale parties at Christmas, backyard barbecues in the summer, Downton Abbey watching feasts in the bleak midwinter, brunches just because, and always, always a fall party with a pumpkin stuffed full of a rice-and-ground-beef casserole-like concoction.

Eventually, there came lunches to celebrate engagements and talk of what will happen when things change, when some of us were planning to move away.
That's when I sent out the email, and the recipes started flooding in. We had to have the pumpkin of course, and the corn salad we all remembered from the barbecue. Bri's famous brownies and artichoke dip were musts. And along came some of our favorites that might not have made for potlucks but we thought should be shared.

And so when wedding time came for two of these ladies, two weeks apart, I bought them a gift off the registry of course. But more importantly, I packed up a flip book of words and photos that are as much about the memories and life shared together as they are about ingredients and procedures, and the extra copies went to the single ladies who compiled, edited, and shared their test kitchen secrets (shout out to the food editor and test kitchen professional among us!) because it's not like we were going to be left out.

I made a more time-intensive, fancily published family cookbook on Blurb a few years back, but this time a took a simpler route. Here's how:

June 27, 2016

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has become the love language of the summer of 2016.

It's just so multiplicitous. I can make a whole batch for a family in the sleepless newborn state of life (and maybe hoard a few lunch servings), and they too can pull it out for insta-meal after insta-meal. I can eat on it, my roommates can eat on it, sometimes once (or twice!) a day for a week, still finding garlicky basily freshness punched into every veggie crisp bite. Before you know it, your roommate is also making multiple batches of the pesto pasta variety and feeding it to her people.

And then sometimes when TakeThemAMeal.com reminds you to deliver your pasta salad, you get to hear stories and struggles, and figure out that dropping by some dairy-free chocolate the next week when all the crazy of life will be descending will speak love even stronger.

And sometimes catering-sized pasta salad behemoths will take over your fridge when you marry off a roommate. Then pasta salad becomes the means to laughs around the table and an excuse to blend leftover citrus and berries with some tequila, which might have had something to do with the laughs. And it doesn't stop giving there. It becomes insta-food for a friend with energetic kids whose husband is out of town, and an excuse to stop by and talk with someone who after their super hard day ends up filling you up with encouragement too.

So why not make it this week too?

May 16, 2016

Best Birthday Cakes of My 20s+30 Reflections at 30

The have nots of my 20s haunted my ascent to 30. I have not married, or even come close. I have not had children. I have not bought a home. I have not owned a dog. The approaching-30, not-quite-where-you-thought-you’d-be-in-life shame is real, and it’s cruel. It’s also full of falsehood. 

In my final weeks of my 20s, though, I focused my thoughts elsewhere—on the joys and growth that HAVE marked this formative decade. They are abundant and rich. Today, on year 30, day 1, that’s where I am living, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Sour Cream Marble Cake for Susan
1. I baked many birthday cakes, hence the visuals for this post (scroll down past my verbal explosion for more from my collection).

2. I opened my home. I hosted groups of 20 plus girls and groups of 10-15 coeds for lake weekends. I co-hosted potlucks and New Year’s parties, backyard movies and neighbor gatherings, intimate dinner parties and houses full of people for going away parties.

3. I was submerged in an icy cold creek on an Easter Sunday to signify my new life, and a few years later on an Easter Sunday proclaimed that life to an entire church body.

4. I moved to a creaky old apartment in college town, Missouri, with an oven that had to be lit with a lighter, where I learned my craft of choice from those who know it well.

5. I slowly started my life over in the city where I grew up with my parents as roommates, and ultimately found layer after layer of magic new and old in the Magic City.

6. I pursued what I thought was my dream job only for the bridge to it to crumble and make way for the dream job I never knew I wanted.

7. A house of three then-strangers became home. Before long, I’d lived with 12 ladies and found treasures of friendship and companionship along the way.

8. I walked through engagement and marriage with friend after friend after roommate after friend. I loved it. I was exhausted by it.

9. I worshipped with believers in Creole and Spanish, in Haiti and Guatemala.

10. I developed a voice in writing, had the privilege of telling people’s stories and nerded out over grammar like it was my job.

11. I wrote love letters to my mom and to my closest friends, because who said love letters were just for romance?

12. I went on blind dates with mutual friends and with complete strangers from the internet, and each time they became slightly less terrifying.

13. Speaking of, I became a bolder version of myself.

14. I wasn’t ready to stop learning. I took lay theology classes and classes on calligraphy and cake decorating. I attended lectures on occasion, read things and added 206 books to my “read” list on GoodReads.

15. I totaled a car, said things I immediately wanted to take back and saw a darker side of Madoline the Good Girl. Guess what? She’s a sinner like everyone else.

16. I felt the weight of sin and darkness more heavily, in myself, in the lives of those I love, and in people I struggled to love. It hurt. And it made the power of salvation all the sweeter.  

17. I went on friend dates, dates with my parents, dates with my brother. I went to local restaurants, on picnics, to plays and concerts. I relished one-on-one and small group conversation. See also: introversion.

18. I cried big fat ugly cries on occasion and learned that it’s okay to let myself do that, to grieve the end of something meaningful and to grieve the hurt I felt from others.

19. I reached new depths of feeling known and loved by friends who feel like family and sought to be that kind of friend to them.

20. I documented my days, my years, my highlights, my lowlights. I journaled, about spiritual things and not-so-spiritual things. I stepped up my photography quality and printed photos for an ongoing old fashioned album.

21. I composed 351 blog posts about what I cooked, but most days I cooked with zero care for presentation and photos. More than any kitchen activity, I baked cookies and cakes, chocolate and chocolate, cookies and cakes, and chocolate and chocolate. Perhaps most significantly, I baked this cake and these cookie bars about 37 times each (that’s a completely random guess of a number).

22. I embraced my freedom. I took last minute road trips to see newborn babies and spent days and hours and days of quality time with friends. I slept in. I daydreamed for hours and hours on end. I came home when I wanted to. I watched what I wanted to. I did what I wanted to. I ate what I wanted to.

23. I made friends with ladies newer to the adulting thing than I was. Along the way, I learned age means less than maturity.

24. I learned to listen and ask good questions—to be a good journalist, a good friend and a good stranger to talk to. And to value people whose conversations are marked by these things.

25. Intentionality became my favorite mantra.

26. I said yes to responsibility, to a junior board, to a junior board presidency, to running alumni events, to hosting, to planning.

27. I got to see and soak in the beauty of giant rocks in Arizona, rivers and mountains in Jackson Hole and Montana, gardens and pastries in England, architecture in Spain, coastlines in the Dominican Republic and Maine, culture and coasts in Seattle and Victoria, and the scenic contours of my own backyard.

28. I learned to embrace my introversion. I’m now cool with not being the bubbly person that everyone immediately is enthralled with two seconds after meeting OR the one who likes large social events, and I have confidence in the strengths of the personality I was given (ISFJ all the way!).

29. I discovered that church could become the people who feel like home and remind you of the truth you want to believe.

30. I learned to laugh at the future, to hold my dreams with an open hand and to love the gifts of the present that I could never have dreamed up on my own.

Cheers to the advent of my 30s, and to all the cakes to come!

Smitten Kitchen's Tiramisu Cake for Laura
Chocolate-Buttercream Cupcakes for Katie
Chocolate-Kahlua Buttercream Cupcakes for Madison
Strawberry Cake (from somewhere on the Internet) for Emily
Chocolate-Buttercream Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting on Top for Sarah Margaret
Sugarless Jello Mold for Melissa
Chocolate Waffle Bar by Moi for My 26th Birthday
Blueberry-Lemon Layer Cake for Amy (with an A!)
Birthday Fruit Tart for Irene
Chocolate Sheet Cake for Marian (from the way back archives!)
Chocolate Cake Pops for Mom's 50th
Insta-Cookie Cake for Many Coworkers' Birthdays (but the photo was from Patrick's graduation)

April 26, 2016

Bavarian Cream Cake

One magical day, homemade layers of chocolate cake and creamy something or other appeared in my fridge, courtesy of my roommate's church dinner. Maybe it was because I had suffered through consuming overly sweet icing from a local bakery that most of the world just loves (and I really don't understandit's not made with butter, people), but lightly sweet cream opened a new world of cake combos reminiscent of trifle for me.

Within a week, I had tracked down the recipe, which turned out to be a combination of whipping cream, cream cheese and surprise ingredient brown sugar, and made it for myself with my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The recipe calls for refrigerating it 8 hours, but the longer you leave it in the fridge, the more wonderfully the cake melds with the cream, bettering with age. 

I also have this recipe to thank for inspiration to ice cake with Nutella cream. Maybe that will make it to the blog next, since all I seem to blog about is variations on cake these days.

March 23, 2016

Oatmeal Cookie-Topped Brownies

On an Alabama "snow day," meaning it might possibly snow and so everyone goes home, I'm attempting to do my job from my couch in PJ pants late on a Friday afternoon, and all I can think about is baking warm and cozy chocolate something. I'm thinking brownies, I'm thinking cookies, I'm thinking... brownie cookies.

Soon I move a room over to delve into my ridiculous stash of chocolate chips and butter, whip these guys up and tote them down the street ready-to-bake for a super girly night with the March girls. (Side note: If you are female and haven't read or watched Little Women, it will make you feel almost as warm and cozy as this oatmeal cookie-brownie combo.)

Verdict: The oatmeal dough makes the rich brownie not as overwhelming and adds a bit of buttery nuttiness to the extremity of chocolate. They will be made again.